CHAPTER THREE

A/N:

My apologies for the immense delay. This chapter was actually written over a month ago, but I've been extremely preoccupied with another project of mine. I'm THIS CLOSE to selling a Young Adult book (aimed at high school age) to a major NYC publisher. Read my profile/blog for more info on that. I'm sure you guys understand why my attention shifted! So here is an update… hope you enjoy. Keep an eye on my profile for news on when the next update might be coming.

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Two days later, Kathryn had a plan.

Since her arrival at Graysbrook, she'd spent nearly every waking moment with the children.

And yet, she saw their parents only at dinner- the same small window of time when the children saw them.

It was no wonder they rebelled like they did. Emily and David craved attention and affection, and yet they received none. Their father, carefree as he was, was polite but detached. He'd said a few words to them about the idea of snow and Christmas time, and then returned to his meal.

Lady Belmoor was no different. At times it seemed that a spark of affection shone in her eyes, but then it would disappear. She let them have everything they wanted, including pastries rather than vegetables, but spoke very few words directly to the children themselves.

Her character was a contradiction. She seemed so rigid and reformed and yet treated her children in the most opposing fashion. While everything about her was meticulous, nothing about her children could be considered the same. Katherine couldn't' help but wonder how she'd managed to become the woman she was, and yet she was certain she'd never find the cause. There was no friendliness about her employer, and she had the feeling she'd never come to undertand the woman of the house.

Their uncle, Lord Graysbrook, spoke even less than his sister. He sat silently at the helm of the table, spoke a bit about business with Lord Belmoor, and then ate his dinner. He politely acknowledged Kathryn when he arrived, but it was more for duty than for kindness.

To Kathryn, the long days felt cold and devoid of joy. It was as if she lived in a house full of strangers, not a family. The children behaved like they did because they had no reason not to; they didn't have love or trust or anything that a child needed for happiness. Why try to please parents who don't pay attention anyway?

The only thing Kathryn could think to do was to befriend the children. Being an authority figure hadn't worked at all. They had enough of those in their life.

She decided on a bit of a picnic, and arranged for their ponies, along with a horse for her, to be saddled up and bought around to the front.

It was a bit cold for a picnic, but she was hoping if they bundled up that they wouldn't catch cold. The fall was fading into winter faster than she could have thought possible. Already, the golden leaves were blowing away, leaving only memories of the summer time to cling to. The bare branches of the maple trees reminded her that snow would soon come.

As Kathryn led the children out to the barns, she wondered if she was crazy to take them on a ride. David was already running ahead, hitting the fences and barns with a stick he'd found along the way. Emily was whooping and hollering like a boy rather than a young lady, trying in vain to keep up with her brother. Her miniature riding habit already had pieces of mud clinging to the hem.

As Kathryn entered the barn, and her eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, Kathryn sighed in relief. The children were petting their ponies, for once standing still.

Perhaps this was a good idea. Perhaps it would focus their energy.

Perhaps not. David started to jump around, and when he knocked over a tin bucket filled with brushes, his pony jumped to the side, its eyes rolling around in its head, and its nostril's flared.

"Shhhh," Kathryn soothed, walking up to the pony with her hand held out. She felt as though she was approaching a wild tiger and not a docile children's pony, but David's erratic behavior had scared it. "David, you're scaring your pony. You need to be calm and quiet around her, OK?"

"He's a boy. His name is Spice," David replied, stepping up along side Kathryn and placing his palm on the pony's shoulder.

"That sounds like a wonderful name. Did you name him yourself?"

"Yes," David said, beaming from ear to ear.

"And what is your pony's name, Emily?" Kathryn asked, walking over to where Emily stood, watching a groom tack up her pony. It was a short, chubby little red-roan, with a two toned mane and tail.

"Peaches," she said with a smile. "Because that's what she looks like. She reminds me of peaches."

"That's a good name for her," Kathryn said, patting Emily on the shoulder.

The groom finished tacking Peaches, then gestured towards a tall grey gelding in the cross-ties behind the pony. "That'll be yer mount t'day. We just call 'em 'Ol Gray."

Kathryn nodded to the groom, who looked ill at ease talking with her. She imagined he enjoyed the company of his horses more than people, so she left him alone, instead walking towards her mount and gathering the reins.

She could see why the called him 'Ol Grey, because he was certainly old. He had a creaking walk and whiskers that must have taken a year to grow. He had a few old scars on his legs, evidence of a long, useful life, and she found herself smiling as she looked at him. He was docile, and as he pushed his head against her chest, hoping for a scratch behind the ears, she was glad that she would be riding him. It would be a relaxing ride, no doubt.

The children, excited to be getting out of the house, bounded down the aisle way with their ponies in tow, heading towards the mounting block. The groom would have helped them mount, but they both seemed eager to show their self-sufficiency.

David scrambled easily aboard, but Emily, forced to ride side-saddle, had more difficulty. For one heart stopping moment, Kathryn thought Emily was going to fall off backwards. Luckily, she grabbed a chunk of Peaches' mane and stopped herself, then proceeded to climb aboard unfazed.

Kathryn had not ridden a horse in at least two years, since her mother had filled her schedule with every party, ball and dinner party that she could get invited to. However, she found herself settling into the rhythm quite easily, and the three of them were soon on their way to the pond that Lord Belmoor had told her about.

The gentle breeze made it feel a little colder than she'd expected, as the wind seemed to be picking up the moisture from the ground. Despite the chill, though, she was pleased with their trip. Emily and David were laughing as they trotted along, trying hard to keep up with the bounciness that their short-legged ponies produced. Kathryn jogged quietly along behind them, her elderly mount stretching his head out and relaxing as he followed the plucky ponies.

The trail was a well-beaten dirt path, worn smooth from many hooves pounding over it. She wondered if her employers used it as a foxhunting trail, or if perhaps they just enjoyed a good ride.

The three of them passed by the gardener's cottage, beyond a small barn, and then over a grassy knoll. Below, about three hundred meters, lay a glistening pond, with a few geese creating ripples that slid across the surface and onto the muddy shore. There were only three of them, the last few left that had not yet migrated south. There were a few large boulders to the right of the pond, next to a large barren Oak tree.

"Let's go over to that side. We can tie off to the tree and eat our lunch on the rocks." Kathryn pointed towards the biggest boulder, and David and Emily nodded, tugging slightly on the right rein to signal their ponies.

After tying off their mounts, the three of them scrambled up onto the boulders, laying out a blanket and retrieving their lunch.

The cook had packed biscuits, a breast of chicken, some sliced carrots, a wedge of cheese, and a container of warm cider.

Before passing the food out, Kathryn struck a bargain with Emily and David.

"Would you two care to make a deal with me?" she asked, closing the basket.

"What do you mean?" Emily responded.

"If you can each tell me one word of French, I shall let you feed my biscuit to the geese."

Emily and David turned and looked at one another, excited by the prospect of feeding the birds.

"I don't know any French." Emily responded, furrowing her brow in disappointment.

"Do you not remember a word of what I said yesterday? All those things that I named in French? I told you that you would want to remember them. Did you not even try?" Kathryn asked, hoping she'd made her point.

Emily pouted, and David tried to act as though he didn't care, but she could see that his eyes flickered over to the geese now and then.

"If you tell me one now, and I try to remember it, will you let me feed them?" Emily asked, placing her hand on Kathryn's knee as she pleaded.

Kathryn smiled, pleased that Emily wanted to try.

"I will tell you each one word. If you remember the word when lunch is over, I will give you my biscuit. Is it a deal?"

Emily nodded quickly, her dark curls bouncing in the movement. David looked over at the geese, watching as they swam circles on the glassy surface of the water, and then locked eyes with Kathryn.

"What is my word?"

Kathryn could hardly contain her excitement. This was the first time David had wanted to try to learn something. She told Emily to remember oie féminin, which meant goose, and told David masculin, which meant biscuit. The two of them repeated the words a few times, and then happily set to work on their lunches.

As Kathryn ate, she let her mind wander over the events that had transpired since her arrival. The only thing that Kathryn had to be thankful for had been Lady Belmoor's absence. If she had come by to check on her children, even once, she likely would have dismissed Kathryn on the spot. David had done literally everything and anything he wanted to do. He'd thrown his toys everywhere. He'd wrestled his sister to the ground, skinning her elbows. He'd even ripped one of his books apart.

He'd driven Kathryn crazy.

Today, though, he ate his lunch quietly. Kathryn wondered if he were silently trying to remember his French word.

When the time came, Kathryn held her biscuit in her hands, fighting the urge to wring it anxiously.

"I know mine! I know mine!" Emily exclaimed, jumping up from her place on the rock. "It's, um, Wee Fem…femininin," she said, completely butchering the word.

It didn't' matter though. Kathryn was pleased, and broke off half of the biscuit and handed it to Emily. "Very good. You may go feed the geese."

Kathryn turned towards David, anticipation welling in her stomach. Would he remember his word? Would he prove all her worries wrong?

"I forgot my word. Can I feed them anyway?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

Kathryn had to try hard to fight the urge to sigh in disappointment.

"No, David. I can not reward you if you do not make the effort. Shall we go watch your sister feed the geese?" Kathryn asked cheerfully, forcing herself to act indifferent.

She stood and slid off the rock, walking towards the muddy shores, watching as the geese swam towards Emily.

"Masculin," David said in perfect French. "Was that my word?"

Kathryn turned around and stared at David, wondering if she'd imagined the word that she'd wanted to hear. He was standing directly behind her, his cheeks a bit rosy from the cold, waiting expectantly.

"What did you say?"

"Masculin," he repeated.

Kathryn grinned from ear to ear. "Yes, that's correct!" She handed him the rest of the biscuit, a little bit of hope boiling to the surface of her otherwise bleak outlook.

This wasn't impossible. It was just very, very hard.

Kathryn watched quietly as the two kids giggled and tossed pieces of Kathryn's lunch to the geese, who gobbled it up hungrily and looked for more.

"Shhh!" Emily said suddenly, putting her hand on her brother's arm. "Do you hear that noise? It sounds like a monster!"

Kathryn spun around and stood in silence, wondering what on earth Emily was talking about. There was nothing around them for several hundred meters.

And then she heard it. It was quiet at first, a muffled squeal, followed by a grunt. The cries were animalistic and pained, and Kathryn's heart began to pound so wildly she could scarcely hear it. Her throat fell dry, and she swallowed, willing herself to remain calm.

"What is it?" David asked, wide-eyed.

"I don't know. It sounds like a horse," Kathryn said, walking towards 'ol grey and the ponies. "Come with me. We'll go and see if we can find it."

"Truly? Like a treasure hunt?" David asked, bounding towards his pony. "I can find it first!" He scrambled aboard his pony before Kathryn could get Emily aboard hers, and then took off.

"David!" Kathryn rushed to her mount, dragged herself into the saddle, and then dug her heels into her horse's side.

Unfortunately, her horse hardly responded. It took several meters for it to break into a lope.

Luckily, his long slow legs balanced out the pony's short choppy strides. Kathryn caught up with David just as he crested a small hill, and was relieved to see him slide to a stop.

When she got to him, though, her heart clenched in her chest. He was transfixed by the sight below him, a look of utter horror on his face.

Kathryn tore her gaze away from David and turned to see what he was staring at. A rotting stench met her nose as she looked, and she had to fight the urge to pinch her nose.

A horse stood at the edge of a fence line, its chocolate colored coat crisscrossed with crimson lines of blood. It was shaking so violently she thought it might fall to its knees. Every bone in its body, from its withers to its ribs, stuck out at awkward, severe angles. Tears sprang to Kathryn's eyes as she stared.

It was then that she saw him. A portly man, with a coarse curly beard and greasy black hair, stood just beyond the creature, his fist raised in the air, a thin chain in his hand.

He was beating the horse, Kathryn realized in shock. As his hand dropped down, the now familiar sound of the horse's pained squeal reached her ears.

"STOP!" Emily screamed, her pony smashing its way between Kathryn's mount and David's. "Stop hurting her!"

Kathryn grabbed frantically at Emily's rein as she squeezed by, but she missed, and before she could react, Emily had closed the gap between the angry stranger and herself.

Kathryn threw herself off of her horse, running over to the fence line and grabbing Emily. "Emily, don't be foolish," she whispered, pulling the pony's rein and trying to get away from the unknown man who stood just a few feet away.

"You best keep the girl away from me." The man said, his voice rough and unkind.

Kathryn let go of Emily and stood ramrod straight at the sound of his voice. She turned around to look at him, swallowing her fear and biting her lip to keep it from trembling. She looked from him to his horse, wondering how she would manage to fix the situation.

"I'm afraid its not that simple. I can't let your cruelty continue. You'll have to give me your horse," she said, wondering where on earth the words had come from.

She was crazy. She had to be. The man was more than a foot taller than her and twice as wide.

And clearly, he had a temper.

"Give you this horse? I think not. I'll sell her to you. She's worthless as it is, or I wouldn't have to beat her all the time." His mouth slipped into a cruel grin, showing off a mouthful of rotten teeth. Kathryn had to force herself to stand her ground.

"I have no money to offer you. If you don't give me the horse, I'll see to it your reputation is ruined." She challenged, using the only weapon she had.

"My reputation?" He cackled with laughter, slapping his knee and bending over for a moment. "OH, please, not my reputation!" He laughed again, and then abruptly lifted his fist and hit the horse with the chain.

It squealed and tried to bolt forward, but it was tied to the fence, and it slipped into the mud. It cried in panic and struggled back to its feet, but its knee had been sliced open and its nostrils flared, its eyes rolling around in their sockets.

Kathryn was getting desperate. If she had to watch another moment of this, she was going to burst into tears at the injustice.

"Give me that ruby you're wearing, and we'll consider it even," the man said, taking a step towards her.

Kathryn's hand flew to her throat, fingering the pendant found there. Her mother's ruby. The only thing she'd given her before shipping her off to become a governess. She hadn't said a word as she'd handed it to Kathryn, just pressed it into her hand as the carriage rolled out of the drive.

Kathryn's fingers found the clasp, and she shakily unclipped the necklace. She felt bare without it as she stepped forward.

"We have a deal," she said, handing him the gem.

"Good riddance," he replied, his grubby fingers snatching the necklace from her hand. He turned around and stomped away, leaving the horse trembling and alone.

What in god's name had Kathryn done? She'd bought a horse! A servant didn't to own a horse! How would she feed it? Where would she keep it?

She groaned and buried her face in Peaches' mane. Everything had become complicated in a single moment.

"What's the matter, Miss Kathryn? You saved her!" Emily said, sliding off her pony. She stepped towards the horse, her hand held out, and Kathryn had to grab her arm and pull her back.

"Be careful, Emily. We don't know anything about her. What if she bites?"

Emily looked up at Kathryn with the wide-eyed innocence that only a child could possess. "I think she just wants love," she responded, pulling away from Kathryn and approaching the horse with outstretched fingers.

Kathryn held her breath as the young girl reached the horse. She lowered her head in curiosity, then exhaled one long breath into the girl's palm. Emily giggled, then reached up and patted the horse between the eyes.

"See? I told you."

Kathryn nodded and walked over to the horse, softly rubbing it between the ears.

It was then that she realized the horse wasn't brown at all. Underneath layers of filth, it was gray. The smell of manure was overpowering.

She quickly untied the halter and walked the horse through a gate nearby, cringing as she watched its limp.

"What are you going to do with it?" David finally asked, riding his pony over to Emily and Kathryn.

"I don't know. I don't imagine your parents want a horse like this to live next door to Lord Graybrook's horses. They are far too expensive to risk some sort of illness."

Kathryn shook her head and sighed in discontent as she looked at the wounded horse. She had saved it from a beating, yet now it was homeless.

"There is a barn by the gardener's house! I bet you could keep him in there. They don't use it." David said, showing interest in the horse.

Kathryn looked from the children to the horse, then back again. Lady Belmoor and Lord Graysbrook were not very sympathetic. Likely, they'd make her sell the horse to the first person they could find. The poor thing deserved better than that.

If she hid it from her employers, it would put her job at risk. She couldn't afford to buy hay or bedding, which meant she'd have to use theirs.

Which also meant she'd have to steal it.

Kathryn sighed, knowing she'd just jumped in over her head, and somehow she would have to get out.

"Can we keep her a secret? Just until she's well? Once she is healthy, then I will see if she can be with the other horses. Until then, it should be our secret. Is that alright with you two?"

They both nodded, looking rather pleased with themselves.

A secret.

Kathryn only hoped the two trouble makers knew how to keep one.